Since we talk so much about our Italian olives, you may not realize that we have cultivars from all over the Mediterranean, including my personal favorite for curing, Spanish Sevillanos. Let's chat about the pros and cons of lye curing and how to do it.
Unfortunately, as much as I’m attracted to these large olives for culinary purposes, the olive fruit fly is just as enamored with the big, green flesh as future homes for their many generations of offspring.
Therefore, our Sevillano harvest is a careful process beginning with my assistant Antonio and I cherry picking as many unblemished olives as we can, leaving any fruit with the slightest sign of a fruit fly visit to be harvested and buried in our compost pile, a preventative measure to organically halt future generations of the fly and protect our still immature Tuscan crop used for our oil.
Curing the Olives
I usually cure olives in a salt brine because I can taste the olives during the process and retain a nice olive fruit flavor. This process takes 10 months to a year, but with these large, green Sevillano olives, I like to hold onto their bright green color, similar to the popular Castelvetrano olives I see in stores and at restaurants.
Maintaining the Color
The trick for retaining color is to process the olives in lye. The other benefit of lye is speed. With this method, I can cure the olives in a single twenty-four hour period. The compromise you make for these benefits is that the olives lose almost all of their flavor. It’s an empty palette, or what my colleague Susan Williams likes to call "a gateway olive". It's great for those who may be a little wary of stronger olive flavor, this is the perfe
Historically, olives cured using alkalis were probably rolled in a paste of wood ash and water. Today, if you can find it, you can buy lye and dissolve it in water. This makes the process easier and less messy. Since it's used for nefarious purposes, lye can be expensive and hard to find. I'm lucky to be able to borrow what I need from our Ode Natural Beauty olive oil soap team.
After the olives are soaked in two lye baths of twelve hours each, they are soaked in water. Be sure to change the water regularly over a three-day period. After that, the olives are ready to eat.
-Chef Mark Rohrmeier